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Reading Devadasi Practice through Popular Marathi Literature

This paper examines the popular Marathi literary works that are centred on the devadasi practice prevalent in Maharashtra and looks at its day to day practice. In contrast to the devadasis attached to the temple, those from the lower castes, especially the dalits, neither have any right in the temple nor do they have any space to pursue artistic skills. The pattern involving these women who operate in the hierarchical division of labour within the village, as determined by caste, in continuities and discontinuities with those selling sexual labour in urban brothels is also explored in the analysis.

REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1785I am grateful to Vidyut Bhagwat, Sharmila Rege, Vaishali Diwakar and Swati Dyahadroy for their critical comments on an earlier draft. This paper is a part of a research project granted by the Centre for Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Pune. I would like to thank them for their support. I am also grateful to Kalpana Kannabiran, Anuja Agrawal and Kiran Moghe for their insightful evaluation of this research project. And I would like to thank Maithreyi Krishnaraj for her editorial comments.Anagha Tambe (anaghatambe@hotmail.com) teaches at the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, University of Pune.Reading Devadasi Practice through Popular Marathi LiteratureAnagha TambeThis paper examines the popular Marathi literary works that are centred on the devadasi practice prevalent in Maharashtra and looks at its day to day practice. In contrast to the devadasis attached to the temple, those from the lower castes, especially the dalits, neither have any right in the temple nor do they have any space to pursue artistic skills. The pattern involving these women who operate in the hierarchical division of labour within the village, as determined by caste, in continuities and discontinuities with those selling sexual labour in urban brothels is also explored in the analysis.There is no longer any doubt that devadasis form a major source of recruitment in prostitution in southern India in-cluding Maharashtra, both in urban brothels and in rural areas as “religious prostitutes”.1 The Maharashtra Devadasi Prac-tice (Eradication) Act, 2008 is an outcome of the devadasi aboli-tion movement initiated in the 1970s, and seeks to eliminate the practice as an evil and backward custom. Yet, it is curious and paradoxical that while there is an upsurge in the debates and mo-bilisations on the prostitution question in the last decade, the continuities and discontinuities between the devadasi practice and prostitution have hardly evoked any public debate. Presently the devadasi practice is either subsumed under the generic rubric of prostitution, or it is sought to be eliminated, or defensively referred to, at least in its historical form as a space for cultural and sexual autonomy for women.2 Hence what is needed is a specific interrogation of the constitution of devadasi practice as “religious prostitution” that may have implications for the under-standing of prostitution trapped in binaries.With the emergence of the political organisation of women in prostitution, and the growth of “body work” within the global capitalist economy, the perception and regulation of prostitution has come to be fiercely debated leading to a “sex war”. Does pros-titution only mean “trafficking” of women, or is it a “voluntary choice” of women albeit for subsistence? Is prostitution “commer-cial sexual exploitation” of women, or is it a legitimate form of work as any other work for women, and should it be legalised as “sex work”? Is prostitution “sexual violence and objectification” of women, or does it enable them a space to claim “sexual autonomy” and pleasure, outside the constricting notion of monogamous conjugality? These are some of the questions con-stituting the polarised articulations of prostitution as trafficking on one hand and sex work on the other.3 The recent controversies in Maharashtra over the issues of legalisation of prostitution, and ban on dance bars have brought out these fractures specifically among feminist publics, over defining and regulating the “prosti-tute”. However these dichotomised perceptions of prostitution have now evidently reached an impasse, producing “more heat than light”, debating vainly the questions of agency, sexuality and work in prostitution on the basis of sweeping generalisation and essentialisation of prostitution. This impasse can be ad-dressed significantly by exploring different ways in which prosti-tution is organised in contemporary India, or by concretising the practice of prostitution.4 This paper sights the devadasi practice prevalent in Maharashtra as religious or sacred prostitution, by seeking to read the popular literary texts focusing the devadasi
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESApril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly86question, which have emerged in the context of the devadasi abo-lition movement of the 1970s. It then seeks to take out the under-standing of prostitution from the assumed binaries of trafficking versus sex work, and move beyond the intrinsic definition of prostitution by looking at the everyday practice of “religious prostitution”. There has been considerable debate about bracketing the de-vadasi practice per se with prostitution. Whether she has been a pristine ritual specialist having rights within the temple who de-clined to become a commercial prostitute in the colonial period, or whether she has been a sacred prostitute embodying the religious belief of sex as the symbolic of spiritual union, has been a conten-tious issue.5 However rather than this much celebrated “temple woman”, a devadasi from the “lower castes”, especially dalits, who is cast at the periphery of the temple structure performing ritual functions in the village with hardly any subsistence right in the temple is starkly visible in contemporary India. In contrast to the devadasis attached to the temple, this devadasi neither has any right in the temple nor does she have any space to pursue artistic skills or to act as an adjunct to the family. This pattern is seen to be founded on the practice of matangi (the female ritual specialist among matri-centred non-Aryan agrarian communities), which was based on the belief in divine and dangerous power and fecun-dity of this priestess, viewed as the representative of the goddess. However, this religious practice among “lower castes” was later appropriated and integrated as “sacred prostitution” in the hege-monising feudal brahmanical patriarchal order. Consequently, the sexual labour of these “lower caste” ritual functionaries was made accessible and was exploited by “upper caste” men, as against “up-per caste” women defined as chaste; and thus the labouring “lower castes” came to be humiliated and condemned as lowly within the caste hierarchy (Omvedt 1983; Vijaisri 2004). This paper seeks to explore this pattern of the devadasi prac-tice involving “lower caste” and dalit jogtins (as devadasis are also called in certain parts of the state) in southern Maharashtra who have been “non-temple women” operating within the gav-gada (hierarchical division of labour within the village deter-mined by caste,)6 in continuities and discontinuities with those selling sexual labour in urban brothels that figures more promi-nently in the national and international discourses. 1 Articulation in Marathi Popular LiteratureIn this paper, the articulation of the devadasi practice as “reli-gious” prostitution is uncovered from the popular literary dis-course, initiated in Maharashtra in the 1970s, recognising its dia-logues and tensions with other discourses – those of the state, the devadasi abolition movement and the women’s movement – that have emerged in this period.7 This discourse is significant in high-lighting the everyday practice of the devadasi custom within the villageby narrating how this non-conjugal monetary sexual ex-change intertwined with ritual and cultural labour is constituted within the gavgada.The popular literary texts that are analysed here include Prema-nand Gajwi’s play Devnavri (Wife of the God 1981), Balwant Kamble’s novel Napat (Dishonour or Discredit 1984), Rajan Gavas’ novel Chaundka (musical instrument used by the devadasi while singing ritual songs, 1985), Uttam Bandu Tupe’s novel Zulwa (rel-atively stable, ritually sanctioned patron of the devadasi who is expected to provide for her subsistence and give his name to the children born of union with her, 1986), Rajan Gavas’ novel Bhandarbhog (miseries of a life doomed due to her dedication to the goddess and symbolised by bhandara or the auspicious tur-meric powder 1988) and Narayan Atiwadkar’s play Devadasi (1988).8 These texts have been much acclaimed and have gone into many editions. The plays have been produced since the mid-1970s when the devadasi abolition movement emerged in post-colonial Maharashtra. Many of these authors have been directly involved in the devadasi abolition movement or come from fami-lies which practise this form of dedication. Devnavriis dedicated ‘to the gloriousbajarbasavya (“prostitut-ing” culture) and emphasises vehemently how the brahmanical religion sanctions the sexual exploitation of “lower caste” devada-sis by “upper caste” men. It narrates how a devadasi struggles to break out of the dedication and daringly demolishes the idol of the goddess Yellamma. Napat is dedicated as “…to my grandmother Gangabai Yelu Salubai Kamble9 who was allowed to live only as a devadasi” by the blind religious order of the nation and begins by asking that “…..selling our (‘lower caste’) women may benefit you (‘upper castes’), but what do we gain from it?”. It uncovers not only the anxieties and dreams, humiliation and desire of a jogtin in accepting a sexual liaison with an “upper caste” man; the tensions and rivalries in the village between and within castes; but most importantly the struggle of dalits to challenge their humiliation by pointing out the sexual double standards within the brahmanical order.Chaundka rather than condemn-ing the dedication as superstition, brings out the anxieties and pains of a kulwadi (a peasant caste family) when taking the deci-sion to dedicate their daughter, in witnessing her getting trapped into the life of dedication with its hardships and suffering, and also the dishonour and ruin that the “promiscuous” relations of the daughter brings upon them. It describes the religious and cul-tural life within the village as “shared”, highlighting the every-day life of jogtins. Zulwa is an account of the everyday struggle of a jogtin’sdaughter to lead a life of honour and legitimacy, and also the dilemma of a jogtin mother who wants and attempts to keep her daughter away from the pains of the dedicated life, yet prepares her for that life realising its inevitability. It also uncov-ers the hardships faced by the dedicated men (known as jogta) and women, rooted in disrespectability, scarcity and sexual deca-dence, and also in the competition and networking among them. Bhandarbhog is a story of the struggle of a peasant caste jogta, his pain and intense humiliation due to the dedication which re-quires him to adjust to his identity as a cross-dressing and non-masculine jogta. It brings out the everyday life of jogtins and jog-tas, their cultural and material worlds, and the strains and net-working among them. Atiwadkar’s Devadasi begins by criticising the dalit movement and the dalit literary movement for politicis-ing the issue of untouchability and adopts the Gandhian term harijan, which is vehemently rejected by Ambedkarites. It high-lights brahmanical cunning and exploitation linked with the de-vadasi practice and appeals to people to oppose dedication and support dedicated women by “respecting” them.
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1787Thus through these literary texts, this paper seeks to map the organisation of the devadasi practice as prostitution within the gavgada, and to foreground caste in analysing prostitution.2 Moving beyond the BinariesOrganisation of Prostitution through the Devadasi PracticeEven though it has been widely recognised that the majority of women in prostitution in India are from the “lower castes”, this has been largely attributed to poverty and illiteracy among them.10 Hence, this paper seeks to analyse how caste structures and prac-tices organise prostitution through the devadasi practice so as the sexual services of “lower caste” women and not just “women” are made available in an institutionalised way to the “upper caste” men and not just “men”. For this purpose, it seeks to inquire: How does the gavgada secure the sexual labour of women for men in the village through the devadasi practice? How is the sexual labour of “lower caste” women located in non-domestic context and insti-tutionalised through the devadasi practice? How is the unique ritual and cultural labour of “lower caste” jogtins brought together legitimately with their non-conjugal sexual labour? How is the complicity of family secured specifically among those graded lowest in the caste hierarchy for making the devadasi? As the wife of the deity, a jogtin cannot become the “monoga-mous wife” of any man, but is marked asgavachi bayko (wife of the whole village), and thus there is an unrestrained sexual ac-cess to her. By defining her asundgi (promiscuous) and denying her any “respectable” livelihood options, a jogtin is located in non-domestic sexual relations for survival. When Paru jogtin in Napat goes to collect firewood to the “up-per caste” Ravsaheb’s field, he makes sexual advances at her de-spite her mild protests, commenting that as a jogtin she cannot claim modesty. In Chaundka the heroine Sulee even as a child is teased by other girls that she is sacrificed to the deity, to the vil-lage. As she attains puberty, her parents and neighbouring women become painfully aware that her chastity is beyond regulation, and there is more possibility in her case to become promiscuous. When she goes for wage labour with other women, it is jokingly commented that sexual licentiousness of a woman is justified if she is dedicated. She is harassed when she goes for jogwa (ritual begging) with taunts that she is the property of the village. When she retaliates, she is supported by other women, yet she is re-minded that a jogtin cannot feel upset about the sexual teasing unlike a married woman. Even Sulee’s father who wants to ad-monish the man harassing her is pacified by Sulee’s mother who condones it knowingly. A would-be jogtin Jagan in Zulwa,is always reminded that she has to become sexually active when she comes of age, and warned that she should not form a sexual liaison which is monetarily not rewarding. When she struggles to collect her school fees, she is taunted that she can pay the fees by sleep-ing with any of her teachers. The headmaster of her school makes sexual advances at her under the pretence of giving her free books. She is repeatedly told that as a whore dedicated to the deity, she should not dream of marriage and family and she can change her sexual partner as regularly as she changes her sari. She is approached sexually even by her biological father who refuses to accept paternity to her, as her jogtin mother is considered natu-rally “promiscuous”. Later when she goes to him for help, his wife drives her out, saying that their family is too respectable to have a jogtin entering their home. She taunts her husband saying that she can even bring another wife for him, if he is not satisfied by her since a jogtin entering the “home” implies a threat to the respect-ability of the wife. Similarly, men visiting the temple tease and flirt with devadasis in Devnavri. When Shingari in Devadasi makes an unsuccessful attempt to run away, the priest tells her that having been dedicated, it is her duty to please and satisfy all men and as-serts that she does not remain “untouchable” once she has been dedicated. In Bhandarbhog Tayappa jogta’s father starts drinking after he hears the villagers saying that Tayappa’s dedication will be a convenience for men in the village.Thus, it is the hegemonic ideological discourse articulated often through teasing and humiliation of a jogtin by the village, espe-cially by the “respectable” “upper caste” men and women that mark her sexual identity as a disreputable and promiscuous non-wife, as against an “upper caste” “chaste” wife. Consequently, she is made vulnerable for sexual abuse in her everyday social encoun-ters to any man in the village, including her biological father. Even when she is initiated into a sexual relationship “willingly” by her “upper caste” lover, it is assumed that there is unrestrained sexual access to a jogtin unlike a non-jogtin girl. A jogtin accepts such liaison dreaming of marrying her lover, or compromising for at least “zulwa” relations with him so that a child born of such union gets his name. Thus even a romantic entanglement of a jogtin is unambiguously imbued by material concern on the one hand and sexual objectification on the other, though this is not to say that a similar fate cannot befall a non-jogtin. Sulee is at-tracted to Babnya since he helps her family, and accepts his flirt-ing and also a sexual relation with him hoping that he will marry her or at least keep her “as a wife”. However, Babnya is aware of the impossibility of such a happening and being chastised by his family severs his relation with the pregnant Sulee. Similarly, Ja-gan is attracted to Jayanta who gives her an opportunity to per-form in a play and goes around with him, being aware that no other “respectable” girl will do that. Jayanta flirts with her and makes sexual advances, but ensures that he does not make her pregnant. Paru is hooked by Ravsaheb who openly flirts with her. She urges him persistently to marry her, or at least keep her as a mistress dreaming of living with him in his field like rajarani (king and queen) or a romantic couple, since living in his home is not possible. However, Ravsaheb evades the issue under the pre-text of not offending his father who can disinherit him. He tells her plainly that she being a jogtin is accessible to him on terms of material support and also taunts her about falsely trapping him into accepting paternity of her child.Thus, a jogtin emerges as a sexual object for the consumption of “upper caste” men, not only in coerced relations but even in her romantic entanglements. Nonetheless, the notion of satpan (purity of a jogtin) is discernible in the texts. A jogtin’s sexual encounter outside her marriage with the deity does not essentially mark her as unchaste. However, she is expected to engage in a sexual rela-tionship only when it is not for monetary concern and not with multiple partners; then such a sexual relation does not deny her
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESApril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly88satpan. A jogtin who is into a stable zulwa relation and remains loyal to her zulwa is considered to be pure, and thus satpan is val-ued. Yet, it is always asserted that jogtins living with satpan are rare. A jogtin is seen as dishonoured if she gets pregnant outside the zulwa relation making her progeny illegitimate, mostly be-cause she is unable to ensure that the biological father of her child claims paternity openly. Hence, there are often attempts to abort such illegitimate progeny of a jogtin as in the case of Sulee, Jagan and Paru. Similarly, it is disgraceful if a girl engages in a sexual in-tercourse before dedication as Jagan does. Thus, a jogtin seeks to claim honour and not just ensure subsistence when she struggles to form a stable relation, while the man is wary of committing to such a relation not only due to fear of having to provide for the jogtin and her child, but mainly due to anxiety about giving his name to the children born out of such union and losing face, since the jogtin is seen as a undgi or promiscuous. The paternity of her children thus remains inherently doubtful or disputed.As satpan is valued even for ajogtin, when Sulee’s relation with Babnya is talked about in the village, her parents beat her for bringing shame on them and seek to take revenge against Babnya. The villagers condemn her for failing to maintain satpandespite coming from a “respectable” family (her grandfather has killed his daughter merely due to suspicion of misbehaviour). When Sulee becomes pregnant her mother dies of humiliation, and her father is paralysed. In Chaundka, an elderly jogtin is beaten up by her brother’s son, embarrassed by the fact that her old patron comes to see her. A mahar jogtin who forms multiple sexual liaisons with men in the village is made to stay separately, though just adjacent to her parents’ place. In Bhandarbhog a mahar jogtin is accused by other jogtins of making dedicated life appear immoral, as she breaks off zulwa relations with one man and forms them with another. Similarly, Paru accuses Ravsaheb of disgracing her fam-ily by not owning up to his relations with her openly. Her father feels extremely humiliated as the village and even his caste startsridiculing him for being unable to maintain his jogtin daughter’s purity. Ravsaheb’s father warns him not to trick his son and disgrace him for money. Paru’s father is so upset for about being dishonoured that he stops going out to work and hides frompeople. The idea of honour is linked not merely to the jogtin and her family, but also to her caste. Thus in Napat mahars are humili-ated by the “upper castes” for making their women impure jogtins. Ravsaheb accepts using Paru but denies that her child is from him, and tells Paru’s father that he should have asked Ravsaheb for money for sexually using Paru rather than tricking him into accepting the paternity of the illegitimate child. He accuses Mahars of sending their daughters to “upper caste” men for sexual consumption and living off their daughters’ earnings of prostitution. Humiliated Mahars assert their honour and charge the “upper castes” of keeping their women pure and wantonly ex-ploiting jogtins from among the “lower castes”. Enraged, they seek to revenge themselves on the “upper castes” by avoiding the pre-scribed ritual drum playing during the village fair. Notably it is not only a jogtin but also a jogta who is placed in the monetary sexual exchange with men, being marked as effeminate. The notion of honour is also attached to him. Bhandarbhog is significant in bringing out how “masculine” Tayappa is emasculated to become a jogta and is perceived as bula (not a man), thus prohibiting him sexual access to women. As he is denied “masculine” engagements, he starts spending time making sexually explicit jokes with young men in the village. Consequently he becomes sexually available to other men, though he accepts this hesitantly and with disgust, and is even raped by the men at a liquor shop. Yet, Tayappa is consid-ered pure as he does not indulge in sexual relations with men or flirt with them.Thus, a jogtin occupies an ambiguous and contradictory space. On the one hand, she is disgraced as undgi as against garti (a married woman), and consequently is made available for multiple non-conjugal sexual exchanges, often forcibly or seemingly vol-untarily. Yet she is not inevitably stigmatised as “whore”, since it is not material concern or licentiousness but her dedicated status that draws her into a non-domestic sexual liaison. Albeit a jog-tin’s non-conjugal sexual relations, neither gives her material se-curities and respectability as in the conjugal context, nor does it protect her from unwanted sexual advances of “upper caste” men. It does not give her children rights from their biological father; nor is she required to provide reproductive labour to the man as a wife. Thus a jogtin is not considered as an adjunct to the family as it has been claimed in the case of a temple woman (Srinivasan 1985). However her sexual liaison is not completely dichotomous to a conjugal sexual liaison as it enables a space to claim satpan and purity, pointing out that the notion of honour is graded. Organising Sexual Labour through Devadasi PracticeIt is the gavgada, the hierarchical occupational structure within the village determined by caste that organises the non-conjugal sexual labour of “lower caste” dedicated women within the vil-lage economy through the devadasi practice. For her perform-ance of rituals and provision of religious entertainment, a jogtin is seen as having the right to maintenance in the village asnaru (mendicants engaged in ritual or cultural labour). Like other en-tertainer and beggar castes who are either nomadic or settled in a village as per its requirement (Aatre 1915), jogtins and jogtas (as in Zulwa), are condemned as parasites who live by begging. By defining a jogtin asgavache peek (a village crop), the sexual access to her, even (the forcible access) by all men in the village, specifically “upper caste” men is considered rightful. InNapat, Ravsaheb asserts rightful sexual access to Paru arguing that as a jogtin, it is Paru’s duty to accept sexual overtures and even her father cannot object to anyone forming sexual relations with her. When Sulee gets pregnant by Babnya, the village starts taunting her saying that Babnya has got a fertile field which he does not own, and so anyone could have visited it, if it was not ready to produce a crop. Similarly, Jagan is constantly reminded that she has to take any man who approaches her as her husband, and not to reject and offend men from the village as their support is re-quired to live in the village. Thus a jogtin is repeatedly told that men from the gavgada have rights over her and she lives to offer her body to them as a blessing of the deity. The landed inamdar inDevnavri claims rights over Draupadi after her dedication, as he has given material support to the temple. But the priest
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1789cunningly keeps her for himself and justifies his sexual overtures saying that he is possessed by the deity. Later, Draupadi is forcedto provide sexual labour to other men in the village, while Jagan is sought to be raped in her village.Bhandarbhog reveals how even jogtasare forced into sexual relations by “upper caste” men. A jogtin is thus subjected to compulsion or pressure to provide sexual labour when approached. InDevnavria devadasi loses her son being unable to refuse when summoned for sexual labour despite her son being ill. A jogtin is forced into sexual labour not only within the village but one can see attempts to sell her in an urban brothel too. Zulwa reveals the degenerate life of a jogtin prostituting in an urban brothel who initially dazzles others by her good fortune, but later dies of sexually transmitted disease (STD) as she is forced to provide sexual services to several men. With her dedicated status, a jogtin is thus made to provide sexual labour to multiple “upper caste” partners forcibly, but also due to the restrained options available to her for subsistence. She is not allowed to seek support by marrying a “mortal” man and her en-gaging in non-sexual labour such as agricultural labour is not so-cially approved or encouraged. Sulee is taunted by other labourer women about her sexual identity and hence avoids working with them. Paru is also mocked by other women working with her on Ravsaheb’s land for receiving “favours” from him. Jagan cannot pursue education not only due to the difficulties in paying fees even after going for jogwa to collect money, but because she is ex-pelled from the school for inappropriate conduct as she rejects the sexual overtures of the school headmaster. Later sexual comments are hurled at her when she tries to earn a living by labour. She is taunted for dressing like a gartito go for wage work, and ridiculed as being incapable of arduous physical labour and capable only of sexual labour. She is refused work since garti womenwould be un-willing to work with a jogtin and the labouring men would be dis-tracted. Her mother tries to arrange her marriage to a man from her own caste, who is attracted to Jagan, but his family refuses, suspicious about her purity since she is a jogtin’s daughter. Jagan also tries unsuccessfully to run away like Dasha jogta who leaves the dedicated life as she realises that another jogtin who has spon-sored her dedication plans to sell her. Similarly, Tayappa desires to wear a man’s clothes and “behave” and work like a man. He feels embarrassed by his cross dressing. However he is unsure about be-ing allowed to work and having strength to work. Bhandarbhog describes the case of Mayappa jogta engaged in poultry farming while most jogtas are engaged in ritual and cultural labour pre-scribed with the dedication and cannot escape engaging in sexual labour. He is however denied heterosexual relations. Thus a jogtin or even a jogta is denied “respectable” livelihood options and con-sequently is initiated into monetary sexual exchanges. In order to evade engaging in stigmatised and marginalised sexual labour, jogtins accept sexual liaison with an “upper caste” man yearning to marry, produce legitimate children and start their own family orsansar as garti. However, they are often deceived by their lovers who leave them unsupported when they get pregnant and avoid forming any stable relationship. Draupadi in Devnavri desires to marry the dedicated Pandhari, but is opposed by the priest. Pandhari is unwilling, fearing the wrath of the deity and unwilling to accept the “impure” Draupadi. Even Jagan is betrayed twice, by the “upper caste” men who avoid marrying her. As a jogtin’s efforts to marry and settle down get shattered, she compromises with the comparatively stable zulwa relationship not only to ensure subsistence but to claim satpan. For a jogtin who is required to provide sexual labour to any man in the village who approaches her, zulwa is the only way to a “re-spectable” life and the literary discourse underlines how jogtins struggle to form and maintain a stable zulwa relation. Thus Sulee hopes to live with Babnya “like his wife” and to give legitimacy to their child. When Jagan’s dream of marriage is shattered, she “spots” a landed man on jogwa, encourages his flirting and forms sexual relations in the hope of at least living with him in his home “like a wife”. However, this man avoids forming zulwa relations as promised despite Jagan’s persistence for several months, and even during the sexual relationship, he neither provides for her nor does he respect her. Similarly Paru struggles unsuccessfully to form zulwa relation with Ravsaheb who is prepared to pay for sexual relation with her, but is reluctant to form zulwa relation and take responsibility for Paru and her child. It is important to note that the sexual exchanges with a jogtin, specifically through zulwa relations are regulated within the gav-gada. The “upper caste” men are condemned and deterred from forming a zulwa relation or an open sustained relation or a more than just monetary relation with a jogtin as that would involve her claiming legitimacy for her child and then maintenance or share in property. Thus Babnya, Jayanta, Ravsaheb and many others are pressurised by their families andbhavki (their ex-tended kin) to severe their relation with the jogtins, especially when they get pregnant. Yet jogtins have some space within the gavgada to appeal to “respectable” “upper caste” men to negoti-ate their zulwa relation. Bhandarbhog brings out how the inter-vention of “upper caste” men is sought by jogtins, though unsuc-cessfully to pressurise an “upper caste” man and his family to form zulwa relation as promised. While Napatreveals how Paru unsuccessful in pressurising Ravsaheb to form zulwa relations, disgraces him publicly with the support of his “upper caste” rivals. So as it is difficult to pressurise an “upper caste” man to form zulwa relations as promised, men from one’s own caste are also taken up as zulwa as there is more power for negotiation in one’s own caste panchayat. The intervention of the village is also seen in severing Tayappa’s relation with a jogtin to make her available to other men in the village or in denying Shingari to break free of the dedicated life. The “upper castes” also intervene to encourage dedication of “lower caste” young girls to fulfil the “requirement” of sexual labour in the village. Napat brings out how Inamdar initiates the worship of Yellamma and encourages the practice of dedication in the Satyashodhak village that revered Jyotiba Phule earlier. Similarly in Devadasi, Patil bribes the priest to cheat Shingari’s father Shiva Mahar into dedicating his daugh-ter. Thus jogtins appear to have only a limited space in their “own village” to appeal to “upper castes” in case of deceit and coercion and they can be seen as placed firmly on the margins of thevillage social structure. Hence, even though Jagan’s mother is assured of Jagan’s security when she prostitutes in her “own village” and is not willing to send her to an urban brothel or a tamasha troupe
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESApril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly90which is more rewarding, there is also an attempt to rape Jagan in her own village when she is caught while running away. Thus the non-conjugal sexual labour of “lower castes” dedicated women is secured legitimately and even coercively for “upper caste” men within the village, through gender and caste based division of labour of the gavgadathat marks them as the property of the village. A jogtin can neither subsist through marriage like a “respectable” woman and she cannot form a stable zulwa relation easily. Nor does she have many livelihood options to depend upon. Rather the ritual and cultural labour that she is required to pro-vide to the gavgada situates her on the gavshiv (the margins of the village) like other narus who are not seen as engaged in labour required for the village economy that can be remunerated right-fully by the village, but considered beggars, idlers and vagrants living like parasites. The sexual labour of a dedicated woman is thus stigmatised and marginalised within the village economy.Intertwining Ritual and Cultural Labour of a JogtinThough a jogtin is stigmatised and condemned by the village as a sexual object, she is also revered as a ritual specialist and as the representative of the goddess. However, her accessibility to ritual labour such as officiating the rituals depends on her satpan or purityand paradoxically the same ritual labour such as going for jogwa or singing and dancing in jagaran (a programme of dance and music to appeal the deity), performed mainly by dedicated men and women on ritual occasions, marks her as “promiscuous”, makes her vulnerable for sexual abuse and makes satpan difficult for her. So a jogtin living with satpanis venerated and feared for her religious greatness as she can bring harm to any person, can make a man bula (effeminate) so that his wife will leave him for a “man”. Thus on special ritual occasions, the most revered deceased jogtin is remembered and worshipped in the village. At the same time, jogtins and jogtas are also condemned as outcastes and they are not even allowed a funeral as “respectable” people deserve. In Chaundka when a senior jogtin dies, there is disagreement over where to cremate her. And in Bhandarbhog a jogta is cremated only at night at a place where animals are cremated and in the presence of other jogtas only. Thus a jogtin and a jogta inhabit contradictory spaces of auspiciousness and inauspiciousness.11Hence a decision to dedicate one’s child is imbued with anxiety and tension. The texts underline how such a decision is made to deal with the crisis situation in life due to the faith of people in the supremacy of the deity, and also due to their material inability. In Bhandarbhog, prior to the dedication of Tayappa who has fallen ill, he is given medical treatment despite economic difficulties, which turns out to be ineffective and unpromising. Hence with consulta-tion and assurance from different jogtins that only dedication can cure Tayappa and with the deity visiting him in his dreams his parents take the hesitant and painful decision of dedication de-spite disputes within the joint family due to expenses and dishon-our associated with the dedication. Even Subana in Chaundka takes the decision of dedicating his daughter Sulee with much apprehension, because his family does not have the tradition of dedication, and also because he is anxious about her future. How-ever the difficulties faced by the family seem unending and so fearing an evil eye, Sulee is dedicated. Draupadi is dedicated because her poor parents have promised to dedicate their daugh-ter on the birth of a son. Her father’s death is seen as a punishment for not keeping this promise, and so the decision of dedication is taken fearing the deity’s wrath. A priest deceives Shingari’s father into dedicating his daughter by telling him that he has vowed ded-ication to the deity, after the birth of his son. He also agrees since a young daughter has become burdensome for him. While Paru’s father dedicates her in order to keep the family tradition of dedica-tion, Jagan is dedicated because as the daughter of a jogtin she has no other alternative. Significantly, as revealed in Devnavri “upper castes” worshipping the deity also seek to appease the deity not through dedication but through donation of a cow or money; while poor “lower castes” are normatively required to appease her and articulate their devoutness through dedication.With dedication a jogtin is marked for the unique role of ritual specialist in the village. She takes weekly rounds in the village for jogwa and blesses the villagers, as the representative of the goddess she delivers guidance and advice to people and entertains the vil-lagers by singing and dancing on various ritual occasions and cele-brations. A jogtin officiates over rituals in the worship of the deity, and “upper castes” consider it to be prestigious to be accompanied by a jogtin for the yatra to Soundatti. The jogwa or ritual begging has symbolic significance mainly on sacred days of the deity and only five homes are to be visited for jogwa. Otherwise it is seen as a disgrace as it implies begging due to lack of means of subsistence and also debauchery since it involves roaming all over the village. So taking rounds in the whole village for jogwa is resorted to only to pacify or appease the deity or as a way for subsistence. After Sulee’s dedication the difficulties faced by her family do not end, her mother undergoes a miscarriage and hence Sulee is advised to go for jogwa on sacred days of Yellamma. Yet it is avoided till her grandmother falls ill and Sulee then accepts it only reluctantly to save her family from crisis. Jagan, Paru and also Tayappa initially feel embarrassed to go for ritual begging and accept it only for subsistence. Jagan’s biological father and later the man with whom she has a sustained relation are enraged to see her roaming for jogwa even though they avoid providing for her. Thus jogwa marks sexual debauchery and hence “upper caste” masculinity is often challenged with the taunt that their women will have to go for jogwa.A jogtin’s ritual status also marks her for engaging in cultural labour on ritual occasions by singing and dancing in praise of the deity. The texts reveal how jogtins sing during ritual begging and dance often possessed by the deity during ritual ceremonies and ceremonial visits to the deity, and thus provide religious entertain-ment to the village. They are dependent on “upper castes” for sub-sistence as they perform in jagaranthrough their mela(a troupe mainly of dedicated men and women singing on ritual occasions) but they are mostly subjected to sexual liaisons with the troupe manager and as their ability to perform declines they are margin-alised or driven out from the troupes. The jogtins often confront sexual harassment during jagaran by “devotee” men watching them and the texts reveal clashes among and within troupes over performing jogtins. Yet, dedicated men and women are seen as getting frenziedly immersed in songs and dance commending the deity. So, though Jagan abhors male attention on jogwa, she likes singing with devotion. And significantly, as Tayappa comes to be
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 25, 2009 vol xliv no 1791admired for his dance during jagaran, he not only seeks to subsist by it, but he amuses himself and seeks dignity through it as other-wise he faces humiliation as a cross-dressed jogta.A jogtin’s ritual labour depends on how much religious power she has to talk to the deity and in order to claim such religious power, she has to be “pure”. So Tayappa being considered as a pure jogta is respected and his advice is sought by the village. Similarly, Sulee prior to getting dishonoured for “promiscuity” is called on to perform rituals in the village. Before getting marked as impure, even Paru is called to accompany inamdars on the yatra and her direction to a family to dedicate their daughter on the deity’s summoning is also heeded faithfully. Similarly the men who decline to form zulwa with Jagan as promised, feel anxious that Jagan may curse them for deceiving her. And inter-estingly it is Jagan, (since she despises the “promiscuous” dedi-cated life) who explains to them that the goddess cannot listen to “impure” women like her and advises them to love and live with their wives. Thus, the space to perform ritual labour is dependent on satpan or honour accorded to a jogtin or a jogta. There are tussles among jogtins as revealed in the texts, to claim more religious power by going in to a trance on ritual occasions so as to attract public attention. In Zulwa a jogtin in the village instigates the “upper castes” to forbid Jagan and her mother from going for jogwa in the village. The jogtins compete over offerings, over per-forming rituals or delivering message of the deity through “posses-sion”. However the texts also reveal networking among them as they support each other, train and guide the new dedicated ones, perform rituals collectively, visit the deity together and spend time with each other, as other women in the village are less likely to associate with them closely. Through observance of certain rituals like worship of the guru who presides over dedication ceremonies, celebration of festivals, and regular and ceremonial visits to the deity; the jogtins and jogtas are bound together with caste variation among them, not only as an occupational group engaged in specific ritual and cultural labour, but also as a group which shares similar social location and prescribed way of life with unique ritual significance, and which is marginalised and humiliated as promiscuous.Thus the prescribed ritual and cultural labour that the dedi-cated women perform for the village enable these “lower caste” women a religious significance within the village social life, which often creates clashes among them, and hence results in networking and negotiations. Yet this labour does not provide for their subsistence, rather marks them as promiscuous and immod-est and makes them vulnerable for sexual consumption of “upper caste” men. Hence the “unique” place of a jogtin in ritual and cultural domains comes to be intertwined with the stigmatised and marginalised sexual identity. 3 Prostitution, Notion of Honour and the Brahmanical PatriarchyThus the sexual labour of “lower caste” women who are dedicated to counteract the displeasure of the deity is secured within the gav-gada rightfully and using often indirect coercion – by branding them as gavachi bayko through teasing and humiliation in every-day social encounters; by denying them non-sexual “respectable” livelihood options; by shaping them as sexual objects even in their romantic liaisons and then thwarting any possibility of their mar-riage or marriage-like relation; by making even zulwa relations dif-ficult for them that can ensure not only subsistence but mainly sat-pan or honour; by intertwining their ritual and cultural labour with labelling of undgi and with vulnerability to sexual advances; and by defining them as parasites. This articulation of the devadasi practice enables to recast the contentious conceptualisations of prostitution either as “trafficking” or as “sex work”, either under-lining the sexual violence and material insecurities of the oppressed “trafficked victim” or romanticising the sexual and financial auton-omy available to the empowered “sex worker” outside the con-stricting monogamous marriage. However, both conceptualisations are placed in contrast to the wife and located in the assumed binary between the “stigmatised” whore and the “respectable” mono-gamous wife that makes securities and pleasures of one unavailable to another. These assumed dichotomies can be challenged if caste is the foreground in analysing the organisation of prostitution. The feminist interrogation of the brahmanical patriarchy has pointed out that caste and patriarchy constitute each other by bringing together caste-based division of labour, sexual division of labour and division of sexual labour (Chakravarti 1996; Rege 1996). The brahmanical patriarchy operates not by dividing women into wives and prostitutes, but by hierarchising them, pro-ducing graded and not dichotomous sexualities and labour. It has been amply pointed out that the “upper caste” wives are confined to reproductive labour within the home constraining their access to the erotic and to the productive labour outside home, but glori-fied as respectable and granted privileges – both material and symbolic. The “lower caste” non-wives or prostitutes, on the other hand, are relegated to the erotic labour in the non-conjugal spaces, denied respectability with consequent material insecurities and disprivileges, and rather than enabling them sexual autonomy and pleasure outside the constricting compulsory monogamy, their sexual availability for “upper caste” men is facilitated. The exploration of the organisation of prostitution through de-vadasi practice highlights that the notion of honour operates in graded hierarchies. The notion of honour within gavgada does not mark “lower castes” and non-wives as essentially polluted, un-chaste and dishonourable as against pure and respectable “upper castes” and wives. But the brahmanical patriarchy places women (and also men) from different castes engaged in different sexual exchanges – irrevocable or temporary, with multiple or single part-ner, heterosexual/homosexual – and in different labours inside and outside home, not in binaries but in graded manner. It creates another form of honour satpan which is available to “lower caste” non-wives, significantly with dedication and formation of stable zulwa relation though it is precarious to access. This honour gives the “lower caste” jogtin limited ritualised reverence as the wife of the deity, but also degrades her as the wife of the whole village; and marks space for long term and ritually sanctioned zulwa rela-tions with its material support in the absence of marriage. How-ever, it also makes zulwa relations extremely difficult. Thus there is a hierarchy of honours based on graded sexualities and labour, with hegemonic honour accessible to “upper caste” wives, but dif-ferent types of honours available to different categories of wives and non-wives from different castes.
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESApril 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly92This means that the notion of satpan in the hierarchy of honour organises the non-conjugal sexual monetary exchange inter-twined with ritual and cultural labour within the gavgada.This raises several questions for the conceptualisation of prostitution: How can either the choice or the coercion in prostitution be framed when “lower castes” who are denied knowledge and secure work, decide to dedicate their daughters with much hesi-tation and apprehension, in order to deal with the crisis situa-tions in life due to their faith in the supremacy of the deity? How can the agency of women in prostitution be articulated when the “lower caste” women enter prostitution not merely because of physical coercion or economic necessity, but because of the social injunctions linked with dedication that deny them the options of marriage or stable sexual relation and even non-sexual work, and brand them as “sexually available”? How can prostitution be defined as work when this work is attributed to them because of their caste location and attendant ritual status, and when it marks them as lowly mendicants and parasites in the caste hier-archy, for engaging in sexual labour? How can prostitution enable these women to be sexually autonomous when they are marked as sexually available to “upper caste” men because of their particular caste and ritual location? This will help us to interrogate the binary conceptualisation of prostitution as voluntary sex work or as trafficking. Notes1 The articulation of devadasi practice as “reli-gious” prostitution has highlighted that ajogtin or a murali, being the wife of the god is prohibited from marrying a “mortal” man and then along with acting as a religious specialist, she is expect-ed to provide sexual labour to the villagers who can give her material support. However, though it is the religious status as a dedicated woman that drives a devadasi into non-conjugal sexual ex-changes often for subsistence, there is no longer any symbolic meaning attached to a sexual union with her as a “sacred prostitute”, rather according to Vijaisri (2004) it has become a mechanism to make sexual labour of dalit and lower caste wom-en accessible to upper caste men. 2 On the one hand most organisations, working with women in prostitution treat devadasis locat-ed in red light areas either as “sex workers” or as “victims of trafficking”, without addressing the specificities of “religious prostitution” constituted by the devadasi practice. On the other hand, the devadasi practice is challenged nationally and in-ternationally as sexual exploitation of women, rooted in superstition, ignorance, backwardness and poverty among “lower castes”; however, the welfare attempts for reform and rehabilitation of devadasis by the state and voluntary organisa-tions are scattered and on decline. See Rajas 1997, Datar 1998, Kamble 1998, Kamble 1999. 3 For more details see Sunder Rajan 1996, Gangoli 2008, Tambe 2008. 4 One such significant attempt that challenges the dichotomising perceptions of women in prostitu-tion is the one that analyses “familial” prostitu-tion among bedias – denotified tribe in northern India, explaining how family organises the mak-ing of a bedia prostitute. See Agrawal 2008. 5 See Srinivasan 1985, Nair 1993, Kannabiran 1995, Vijaisri 2004. 6 The jogtins (and alsojogtas) are dedicated to Yel-lamma at Soundatti, Karnataka who operate on the peripheries of the temple and are engaged in ritual, cultural and sexual labour for the “village”. 7 The dalit perspective within the devadasi abolition movement has underlined that the practice prevails mainly among dalits due to their superstition, igno-rance and poverty, which is a consequence of denial of knowledge and “respectable” labour to them within the brahmanical order. Through a historical investigation of how brahmanical caste order has exploited women, and through an ethnographic exploration of the practice, it has highlighted the sexual abuse of lower caste women as “sacred prostitutes”. While the liberal rationalist abolition-ist perspective has viewed the dedication as superstition and backward tradition resulting from a lack of scientific attitude or irrationality, dirtiness and poverty among “lower castes”. Within this framework, the reform organisations and also the state pressurised by the abolitionist initiatives have sought to reform and rehabilitate devadasis. One section of the feminist movement has defined the devadasi practice as a little tradition that needs to be preserved as it affords women a space of ritual and sexual autonomy, and hence any attempt to eradicate the practice is criticised as patriarchal as trying to constrain women within monogamous conjugality. See Kamble 1997; Rajas 1997; Datar 1998; Kamble 2000.8 The list of texts included is not comprehensive, but selected. The popular literary texts focusing the devadasi question which are not analysed here include those published prior to or after the devadasi abolition initiatives such as Shankarrav Kharat’s storyJoktin (1970), Mahadev More’s novel Var Aabhal Khali Dharati (1974) or Suryakant Tawade’sDraupadi (2002), those con-stituting the genre of poetry like S L Mane’sSoun-dattichya Vatevar (1990) or Balwant Kamble’s Gavbhog (1993), those focusing the murali prac-tice such as Ramnath Chavan’sBhandara (1998) or V B Bodhe’s Murali (2000) and those focusing bhavin practice in Goa like B B Borkar’sBhavin (1950) or Jayawant Dalwi’sMahananda (1970). 9 The lineage is derived through women as social father is denied to a devadasi’s child.10Interestingly an analysis of the caste under-pinnings of prostitution is often postponed even explicitly, for instance by arguing for the need to focus prostitution in “larger”, South Asian con-text. See Jean d’Cunha 1997.11 See Marglin and Kersenboom Story for details.ReferencesAatre T (1915): Gavgada (Marathi) (Pune: Varad Books). Agrawal, Anuja (2008):Chaste Wives and Prostitute Sisters: Patriarchy and Prostitution among Bedias of India (New Delhi: Routledge).Atiwadkar, Narayan (1995), (1988):Devadasi (Marathi), Belgaum.Chakravarti Uma (1996): “Wifehood, Widowhood and Adultery: Female Sexuality, Surveillance and the State in 18th Century Maharashtra” in Patricial Uberoi (ed.),Social Reform, Sexuality and the State (New Delhi: Sage). Datar, Chhaya (1998): “Reform? Or New Form of Patri-archy?: Devadasis in the Border Region of Maha-rashtra and Karnataka”, Unit for Women’s Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.D’Cunha, Jean (1997): “Prostitution: The Contempo-rary Feminist Discourse” in Meenakshi Thapan (ed.),Embodiment: Essays on Gender and Identity (New Delhi: Oxford University Press).Gajwi, Premanand (1999), (1981):Devnavari (Mar-athi) (Mumbai: Majestic Prakashan).Gangoli, Geetanjali (2008): “Immorality, Hurt or Choice: Indian Feminists and Prostitution” in Sahni et al (ed.), Prostitution and Beyond (New Delhi: Sage).Gavas, Rajan (2001), (1988): Bhandarbhog (Marathi) (Pune: Mehta Prakashan). – (2006), (1985): Chaundaka (Marathi), (Pune: Mehta Prakashan).Jonaki (1998): A Special Issue on “Devadasi System”, Vol 2, No 1, Kolkata.Kamble, Balwant (1984): Napat (Marathi), (Kolhapur: Prachar Prakashan). – (1999):Bharatatil Devadasi Pratha: Chalval Aani Punarvasan (Marathi), (Pune: Shrividya Pra-kashan). 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